When Andrew Davis spoke to the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 5, he advised community leaders to find a “flag” that they could rally around to promote the community.
Should it be bluegrass, bourbon, barbecue or something else?
Candance Castlen Brake, chamber president, says, “We are still in the preliminary stages of discussing our next steps after Andrew Davis’ visit. We will be holding meetings and discussions with key people over the next few weeks.”
Davis is a marketing specialist who works with business leaders on “how to grow their businesses, transform their cities and leave their legacy.”
He said he visited 54 communities to see what made them either successful or unsuccessful.
Davis said he noticed that the boomtowns had “one amazing shared attribute, they all stake their claim as a ‘capital of the world’.”
He said, “Towns without a claim fare worse than those with a claim. These places are known for something remarkable, instead of nothing memorable.”
The Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau discussed that at a recent meeting.
David Johnson, a board member, owns A+ Leadership with Fred Reeves.
They have a contract with the city to find ways to improve the community.
The contract ends Monday.
Johnson said he heard Davis speak a year ago and “I said we’ve got to get him in Owensboro.”
“We do a lot of things very well,” he said. “But we have to choose something to stake our claim to. Davis said he can’t imagine us choosing anything but bluegrass.”
Johnson said, “It’s all about what it does economically. We’re so diversified. But we need one thing that defines us. We already have the foundation for bluegrass.”
But Brian Smith, board chairman, said, “The problem is getting the entire community to embrace it. I’m not sure the community is all fired up about bluegrass. We have to figure out how to do that.”
Pick a ‘flag’
Johnson said, “We have to pick a flag or we’re always going to be in neutral. During the next two to three months, hopefully everybody will have an opportunity to chime in. People are really talking.”
Later, he said, “We were going to have large breakout sessions with a lot of people listening to Davis and discussing things. Plans that work have the greatest number of people involved and the narrowest focus. But COVID put a wrench in that plan.”
He said, “We had to reduce the size of the groups. But 1,700 watched him on Facebook and 125 attended the sessions we were able to have.”
Johnson said, “We’re gathering information from people. We’ll present the information to the mayor and commissioners later. We won’t recommend a flag. That will have to come from community leaders. People don’t want to be told what their flag is.”
He said that Davis “provided a blueprint. Now, we have to decide what we want to be. We want to be as effective as possible. It’s hard to find a common area. We have to narrow the focus and find some common denominators.”
Johnson said, “It’s not about choosing one thing and ignoring the others. We have to choose one and build the others around it. If it’s bluegrass that brings people to town, we can get them to the distillery and the barbecue restaurants.”
Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said, “I agree with a lot of what Davis said. It’s hard to argue with facts. He visited more than 50 towns and found that the ones with an identity had a more thriving economy. He made the point that when we try to appeal to everyone, we appeal to no one.”
He said, “I’m a bluegrass musician and a bluegrass fan. And I’ve gotten to love Owensboro. My goals have never been small. I want to see Owensboro win. This has a lot of potential.”
The Hall of Fame’s annual ROMP festival in June brought more than 26,500 bluegrass fans from 40 states and six countries — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel and Uganda — — to Yellow Creek Park in 2019.
It pumps between $1.6 million and $2.2 million into the local economy each year.
The event was canceled by the pandemic this year.
“It’s bigger than an anchor event like ROMP,” Joslin said of the future. “We have to attract more bluegrass-related businesses. How do we create the right environment to attract instrument builders and retailers?”
The Hall has taken over publication of Bluegrass Unlimited, the genre’s most successful magazine.
Joslin said the Hall of Fame has “the capability of helping emerging artists record and make videos. There are all sorts of opportunities. We can use the Hall of Fame as a destination and build around it. But we have to get more business leaders involved.”
He said, “The Hall of Fame is going to play on a national and international level. I would love it if the town takes this to heart.”
Joslin said the community might look into an artist relocation program like Paducah’s.
That came up a decade ago in the summer of 2010.
Lisa Jacobi, a musician from Ducktown, Tennessee, fell in love with Owensboro when she came to ROMP that year.
“There is so much potential for new, aspiring, entrepreneurial bluegrass, Americana, edgegrass business people, artists and musical technology gurus to grab a bit of turf in the beautiful-O, create a unique downtown community and develop a musical scene of our/your own,” she wrote in an online bluegrass forum.
Her message caught the attention of what’s now the Hall of Fame.
And leaders then began looking into incentives to help musicians move to Owensboro.
Jacobi said, “I would open it up to more than bluegrass musicians. Owensboro can be a musical incubator, but not like a business incubator where you put a bunch of people in one building. The atmosphere near the Ohio River is always inspirational.”
She said, “It’s just ripe for people who aren’t part of the establishment and don’t want to be part of the establishment. I only spent a little more than 24 hours there, but what I liked was it was not a Branson or a Dollywood. It wasn’t a tourist trap. It felt like a garden spot where musicians can grow.”
But nothing ever happened from that.
“Why are we doing this?” Mark Calitri, CVB president, asked. “The answer is simple. If we do this well, it means an enormous economic impact to Daviess County and helps improve the quality of life for our residents.”
He said that in Davis’ study, “Towns that staked a unique claim and followed his success formula pumped in $2.9 billion more into their economies.”
Calitri said, “Looking at where our community is and where we should be going, the question to uncover is what is the greatest influence in determining our economic future? Andrew Davis has given us the recipe for success by staking our unique claim. It’s not about choosing one over others. It’s about choosing one to lift all others.”
Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301 firstname.lastname@example.org